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Programming Education Google

Did Google and the Hour of Code Get "Left" and "Right" Wrong? 107

theodp writes: Command the dancers to "point left" in Google's dance-themed Code Boogie learn-to-code tutorial on the Santa Tracker website, and the dancers actually point to their own right. The lesson seems to reinforce a common mistake made by younger children learning to code in LOGO, which is to use their own or the display screen's frame of reference rather than the turtle's frame of reference. "These misconceptions," explained Richard E. Mayer, "may be due to the knowledge that the child brings with him or her to the programming environment. For example, children who possess an egocentric conception of space (Piaget & Inhelder, 1956) would fail to recognize that when the turtle is at a 180-degree orientation, its right corresponds to the child's left." So, it should probably be asked if the learn-to-code tutorials from Lucasfilm, Code.org, and Google that are being used to teach the world's K-12 schoolchildren to code might be making the same mistake as 4-7 year-olds. In this year's flagship flagship Lucasfilm/Code.org Star Wars Hour of Code tutorial, for example, command the droid BB-8 to move left and it could move to either its own left or right depending on what direction it's pointed in. So, did the "Largest Learning Event in History" also get "left" and "right" wrong?
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Did Google and the Hour of Code Get "Left" and "Right" Wrong?

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  • Stage Left (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @12:15PM (#51178545)

    Welcome to the difference between "Left" and "Stage Left".

  • Not a mistake (Score:5, Informative)

    by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @12:19PM (#51178567)

    They are not 'making a mistake.' In this case, left and right are ambiguous. It is why is real situations like this (eg a director telling a dancer which way to point) the terms 'stage left' or 'house left' would be used. Or at the very least, 'your left' or 'my left'.

    • It's also a good lesson in "sometimes the documentation sucks, and you'll have to experiment to see what the API actually does".
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      They are not 'making a mistake.' In this case, left and right are ambiguous.

      There's nothing ambiguous about it at all. In imperative form, unqualified left and right always refers to the frame of the recipient of the message, never the producer of the message.

      If I say "step to the left", it means "step to your left", not "figure out my direction and step towards my left". Whether I'm spinning like a dirndl or communicating over radio so you don't know what way I'm pointing, you always know which way you are pointing, and that's the only left that matters. There's no ambiguity

    • by BenBoy ( 615230 )
      Glad I looked before I posted; 'stage left' vs 'house left' [wikipedia.org] occurred to me as well.
    • They are not 'making a mistake.' In this case, left and right are ambiguous. It is why is real situations like this (eg a director telling a dancer which way to point) the terms 'stage left' or 'house left' would be used. Or at the very least, 'your left' or 'my left'.

      Precisely.

      "Left" and "right" only have meaning in context. In this situation, the viewer's frame of reference is stable, while the turtle's (or whatever's) is not, so it makes just as much sense to use the viewer's frame of reference.

  • Sounds like some people are setting much higher expectations from Lucasfilm, Code.org, and Google that I have. Actually getting things right is too demanding of a standard.
    • This is why I try to avoid using LOGO-TURTLE and Code Boogie for mission critical applications.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        This is why I try to avoid using LOGO-TURTLE...for mission critical applications.

        But we want our system stack to be turtles all the way down.

  • This is why sailors don't use left and right. They use port and starboard, which are specified as port being left if you are at the front of the ship looking in the forward direction of travel. If they just said "left" or "right", the instruction was actually ambiguous. Another poster already pointed out that in this context, you have "stage left" and "stage right" which serves the same purpose as the nautical terms.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      This is where "nested" composition references come in handy:

      self.left
      captain.left
      ourBoat.left
      enemyBoat.left

    • But what keeps you from ataching the same frame of reference to left and right as you do to port and starbord? Like when you go to your doctor, he will know, even when talking about your case with other doctors, that the pain in the right arm is always in YOUR right arm.

      • "But what keeps you from ataching the same frame of reference to left and right as you do to port and starbord?"

        The lack of a clear convention in other contexts.

        Assuming you're right about the medical scenario, it's because doctors are taught that as a convention. The general public isn't.

  • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @12:52PM (#51178725) Journal

    For example, children who possess an egocentric conception of space (Piaget & Inhelder, 1956) would fail to recognize that when the turtle is at a 180-degree orientation, its right corresponds to the child's left."

    I'd argue that this is a failure in instruction. If s/he was told at the beginning that s/he *was* the turtle, perhaps with a couple code examples demonstrated in first-reptile view side-by-side with a top-level view, the child would probably get the idea right off the bat.

  • by Marc_Hawke ( 130338 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @12:54PM (#51178733)

    In a 3rd Person Isomorphic situation where your character runs all over a static screen (think Diablo), then left or right should be based on the screen, as you're not in the same 'perspective' as the character is. However, for 3rd Person (over the shoulder) or First Person games, then left or right become the character's perspective (which incidentally lines up with the screen.

    In the Hour of Code example (I did the StarWars one not the elves) it was pretty obvious what perspective you were in and how left and right should work. However, if the elves just dance (and don't move) it's possible the Santa one is 3rd person Over the shoulder, with a rotated camera.

    The question is if you're controlling the elf, or telling the elf what to do. There's a subtle difference.

    • by nyet ( 19118 )

      And if you are writing a scroller, the character's position is actually fixed, and moving "left" means moving the frame (background, sprites and all) right.

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @01:10PM (#51178815)

    Some have mentioned the idea of "stage" left and right. Coming from a theater and television background I can relate to this, but it is unnecessary in this application.

    My wife just got her entire school to do the hour of code. She teaches a 1st and 2nd grade combo class. Adding the difficulty of character-centric directions from the get-go would make it more difficult for some first and second graders to do this, that is a concept that can come later. A few of her students breezed through the entire first lesson set, most can just grasp all the concepts, and some need a little more help but always succeed. (they work in teams, trading off keyboard/mouse time, and that works best for kids of their age.) and it teaches an amazing wealth of concepts even without having to deal with third party perspective direction.

    It would be a good concept to switch it up on a much later lesson and specifically talk about the difference between screen direction and character perspective direction. They did not 'get it wrong' for the basic lessons in any way shape or form.

    This is much ado about nothing. The hour of code and code.org offerings are amazing as they are. They are giving kids a big boost in fundamental concepts they would not normally learn or at least in an applied manner until much later. It makes learning fun. Unlike most technology oriented education programs, this one actually is useful and works. When first and second graders go home and explain to their parents what an algorithm is and how they use one that's a pretty awesome thing.

  • proof:
    left -> left -> left = right

  • by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @01:15PM (#51178831)

    Your other left.

  • This is transparently part of the MS/Google/Code.org plot to ensure that American children cannot reason or program properly, thereby ensuring that facts can be brought to bear supporting the case for programming jobs (which should be theirs by birthright) to be outsourced to India/China.
  • A teacher's opinion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Thursday December 24, 2015 @01:29PM (#51178887)

    After my previous post I went and talked to my teacher wife directly about this. She said at the age level that she teaches (first and second grade) it would be a really bad idea. They are just then learning their directions and compass directions and changing the perspective would make it very confusing.

    Also, she pointed out that some, but not all of the lessons use compass directions, North South East and West. Switching East and West on them when they are just learning about them is not an age-appropriate thing to do, their brains are not ready for that yet. You and I get that concept easily but at that age it's not there yet. She did say that the code.org programs are an excellent and applied way for kids to learn compass directions.

    The interesting thing however is that if you DID want to teach it, the tools are there. One of the first things that they learn to do is to define the function of the direction buttons in the GUI when making interactive games. You could wire them in reverse. But there's no way that she would be doing that with her grade level.

    This is a concept that should be saved for and given as a lesson for the older kids using the more advanced classes that are programming directly in javascript.

    I'd like to hear from more actual teachers who are actually using code.org with their kids.

    • by theodp ( 442580 )

      As far as the frame of reference problem goes, does your wife ever have the kids play Simon Says? Kids seem to catch on pretty fast to the concept when it's their turn to be leader (and the other kids will be quick to correct them when they're wrong!). :-)

      It is interesting, I think, to consider that almost 50 years of educational research may have been overlooked or disregarded in the making of the learn-to-code tutorials being used by schools around the world (LOGO, which most of the tutorials are patterne

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      After my previous post I went and talked to my teacher wife directly about this. She said at the age level that she teaches (first and second grade) it would be a really bad idea. They are just then learning their directions and compass directions and changing the perspective would make it very confusing.

      If they are learning about different frames of reference, like their own left and right versus the compass directions, I would think it would be very valuable to introduce even more frames of reference, so they get a grasp on it being the frame of reference that changes, and not just NSEW being a special case to be memorized.

      There are way too many people who grow up that can't read a map if north doesn't point up, because their teacher never taught them to understand frames of reference. Likely, all they t

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      A lot of adults I've met can't handle compass directions either. It'd be nice if they learned it at some point.

      I don't recall anyone talking about reference frames specifically, either. Admittedly school was a long time ago, and I've forgotten quite a lot of the specifics since then.

    • Changing reference frames is something they usually don't get into until college level mechanics.

    • Could you ask your teacher wife please if CW and CCW (Clockwise and Count-Clockwise) would be any clearer for?

      - older children, and
      - younger children.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      After my previous post I went and talked to my teacher wife directly about this. She said at the age level that she teaches (first and second grade) it would be a really bad idea. They are just then learning their directions and compass directions and changing the perspective would make it very confusing.

      Maybe I'm overestimating my own abilities in first and second grade, but I would think this is something you could easily solve with real world role play. One kid is given poses and instructs another kid to turn left/right/around to match. If you actually see the 90/180 degree turn happening, it's not a complicated concept and I think they'd pretty quickly be able to tell the difference between their own right and the other kid's right and give instructions in the other kid's reference. Once they've underst

  • Most programming games for children are plagued by this problem. It is well-established that many kids struggle with the notion of left and right relative to the perspective of some other character, and yet "turtle graphics"-inspired games ask kids to do exactly that. If you change to absolute direction, then you end up confusing older kids. As a game designer, I thought long and hard about this issue when designing the programming puzzle game Code Master (review here: http://pastgo.net/2015/12/08/g... [pastgo.net])
  • You can't blame Google for saying "left" when they mean "right". Left and right are subjective concepts which are ambiguous except to each other.

    This is part of my grander theory that we live in a mirror world where DNA winds the other way and so do screws. Our liver is on the opposite side. Game controllers have the buttons on the other side than you think and the letters are printed backwards. We switch the words "left" and "right" because our brains were wired ass-backwards when the English language de
  • this is why we always drop a compass rose on any kind of map

    We can work "backwards" just Bloody Well tell us we need to!!

  • I wonder if there might be some differences when using another language.

    I say this because I'm reminded of a question posed to me by a foreign colleague (at the time) who was writing documentation for software. He wanted to convey that the user should look for a button on the left side of the screen, but he was questioning that the proper form might be to refer to it as the right side of the screen, since it was the screen's right.

    His logic went something like this:
    Which way are you facing? And which s

    • It would help if you said where your former colleague is from, but I doubt it's a language thing -- probably it's a case of "thinking too much" and of explicit teaching of frame of reference at school/university.

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